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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 798

Senator REID —by leave-On behalf of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, I present a report on the Murrumbidgee River in the Australian Capital Territory, dated July 1984, together with the transcript of evidence and extracts from the Committee's minutes and proceedings. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report has taken three years for the Committee to prepare and present. It is an important document which I hope will be read and noted, but perhaps this afternoon is not the time to go through it in great detail.

The Murrumbidgee is a sensitive and fragile river that passes through the Australian Capital Territory, rising in New South Wales and proceeding on through important regions of New South Wales. In view of the size of the population which has grown up on the banks of the Murrumbidgee in this area, it is appropriate that we should examine it, analyse the impact and see what should be done to preserve it for the future.

This all started because of the development on the river of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control works and the problems that arose early in its life. Clearly those have been fixed and, as we indicate in the report, the quality of the water throughout the Australian Capital Territory is of high standard at present. However, there are things that need to be done to preserve it for the future. We took the view that the river by itself could not be protected on its own and that the corridor was highly significant. The size of the corridor is significant and the waters that run into the Murrumbidgee also need to be monitored.

There are some 35 recommendations in all and I draw the Senate's attention to them. There are a number of matters that we feel quite strongly should be acted upon, in particular the preservation of the area of Lanyon and Lambrigg, Tharwa, Cuppacumbalong and that part of the Australian Capital Territory which is of great significance historically and the only remaining rural area which can be preserved as a rural landscape for future generations. We have recommended that construction of housing should not proceed anywhere near as close to Lanyon as the National Capital Development Commission had sought, although we have not cut it back as far as the National Trust would have liked. There has to be some compromise. We disagreed with the Minister for the Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) in his view of what constituted the homestead of Lanyon in relation to the area where housing construction should not proceed. We took a different view-a wider view-of the area that should be preserved, and we hope that that will be acted upon. We noted that the Minister's comment earlier in the year that there should be no construction on the west bank of the Murrumbidgee River and we strongly urge that he takes steps to enshrine that comment and not merely leave it as a wish.

The other comments I wish to make today relate to the Chairman of the Committee , Ken Fry. He has been Chairman since March 1983, and if there is an early election that may well be the end of his service. Tomorrow Ken is going to the United Nations as the Parliament's representative. It may well be that by the time he returns there will have been an election. He has announced his retirement and is not seeking re-election for the seat of Fraser, so it may be that his time has, in a sense, run out as far as the Committee is concerned. I think that he has served longer on the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory than any other member since the Committee's inception in 1957. He came into the Parliament when the seat of Fraser was formed in 1974, joined the Committee in July of that year when the Parliament resumed, and has been an active member ever since. He took on the job of Acting Chairman at the time of the death of the Chairman, Senator John Knight, and he remained in that position until I came into the Parliament in May, a few months later. I took over as Chairman at that time and I valued very much the assistance and support I received from Ken Fry, he having had so much more experience. During that time he assisted me greatly in the running of the Committee so that its activities proceeded without any significant interruption. We worked together then as Chairman and Vice-Chairman and subsequently from March of last year our roles were reversed and I have been Deputy Chairman. I will preside over the Committee in the remaining few months now that he is going away. He has contributed most valuably to work of the Committee and he will be missed. I wish to place on record that we have benefited greatly from what he has done on the Committee.

There have been a number of members of staff who have worked with the Committee during the time of this report. We started with Mr Phil Bergin and he was replaced shortly afterwards by Mr Morrie Adamson. Then Allan Kelly became Secretary of the Committee and more recently David Elder. Some honourable senators who have had much more experience than I have in working with committees will know that it is difficult to complete a report with so many changes, but it has worked extremely well. Everyone has been very dedicated to the task of this particular inquiry and all the other things that we have done at the same time. I wish to place on record my thanks to those members of the Committee who have done so much and who have, from time to time, taken over and picked up the Murrumbidgee report so that we could finally make it to today when we are making the recommendations.

I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the tabling statement of the Committee's report.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-


Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory

Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 Tel. 72 1211


The report I have just tabled is the result of a long period of detailed investigation by the Committee. The inquiry into the Murrumbidgee River was referred to the Committee at a time when there was great concern about the extent of pollution in the river as a result of teething problems following the commissioning of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre. These gross pollution problems were largely resolved as a result of the teething problems being overcome. Water quality in the Murrumbidgee is now quite satisfactory. As these immediate problems were overcome, the Committee addressed itself to the long term problems which could affect water quality in the river and and to issues concerned with the wider environmental protection of the river and its surround.

A way of conserving and protecting the river from developmental pressures is through the delineation of an environmental corridor along the river. Suggestions as to the extent of the river corridor and the kind of protection necessary for it varied. However, it is clear that most people want some recognition of the river and its environs as being special, with its recreational, natural and aesthetic features being maintained or enhanced. The name Murrumbidgee is associated by most Australians with one of our largest rivers, yet in the A.C.T. region the upper part of that river does not have the size, permanency or resilience that it has further downstream. The river and its tributaries are subject to marked variations between and within seasons. We even saw the river stop flowing for a period early last year. It is within the concept of a fragile river ecosystem that the corridor must be viewed.

It is a comparatively small water system to which we look for increasing water recreation facilities. There are increasing, and sometimes conflicting, pressures for other uses such as passive recreation, undisturbed natural areas, fishing, canoeing, horse riding, grazing, forestry, urban development, sand and gravel extraction and water supply. Careful planning of the river's resources is essential.

The Committee supports the concept of a river corridor. It concludes that the boundaries of the corridor should not be of a fixed width but be delineated following a careful consideration of the visual, topographic, ecological, water quality and recreational factors affecting each section of the river along the length of the corridor. Users upstream and downstream of the A.C.T. also need to be considered. While the corridor will be a multiple-use area with different parts of the corridor having different planning and management policies, the Committee recommends that developments within the corridor should be compatible with the primary purposes of the corridor which are the preservation of the natural environment and heritage elements together with the provision of compatible recreational facilities. In order to achieve these primary aims, the Committee recommends that development proposals in the corridor should be the subject of environmental impact statements, that the corridor be widened in the Lanyon-River-Lambrigg area to provide a suitable rural landscape setting for the Lanyon and Lambrigg homesteads, that the nature conservation areas of the corridor be gazetted under the Nature Conservation Ordinance and that the corridor be placed on the register of the National Estate.

While the concept of a river corridor is a useful one for some purposes, such as aesthetic considerations, planning recreational facilities and developing buffer areas, it can be a limitation in assessing the total environmental impacts made on the river. The Murrumbidgee drains the whole of the ACT and consequently activities throughout the Territory could potentially affect the river. The Murrumbidgee River catchment within the ACT should be seen as a single system such that its use and management should be considered as a whole. Options for the use of water and land resources should be determined in relation to the present and future needs within the community, including environmental considerations, so as to maintain their long-term capabilities. Water and land management therefore need to be closely co-ordinated.

To achieve this close co-ordination of water and land management the Committee has recommended that the Water Use Plan for the whole of the ACT be completed without delay. The Water Use Plan will need to be integrated with land-use policy and development plans to ensure that objectives in terms of standards monitoring procedures, definition of responsibilities and regulatory mechanisms are achieved.

As the Murrumbidgee passes through the ACT for only a small section of its length, it is essential that there be close co-operation with the New South Wales Government in ensuring the environmental protection of the river and that adequate water supplies are available to the ACT and downstream users. The report makes recommendations about these.

Basic environmental protection legislation is still not in place in the ACT. Water, air and noise pollution ordinances are yet to come into effect. Hazardous chemical control in the Territory, including of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, remains minimal. The House of Representatives Environment and Conservation Committee regarded the situation in the ACT in December 1982 as deplorable and sought urgent action to rectify these legislative deficiencies. The Committee recommends that this legislation be implemented within three months and it has made clear that any delay in implementing the legislation in this time would constitute negligence on the part of those involved.

The heritage aspects of the Murrumbidgee Valley require particular attention. While the region has been long settled by Europeans, and much, much longer by Aboriginals, most of Canberra is quite new by comparison and its growth inevitably threatens heritage sites. These could be Aboriginal camp sites used for many centuries or the remains of buildings of the first European settlers. Preservation and access to heritage sites is important to any community but more so to the children of Canberra growing up in a comparatively new city. The ACT does not have the kind of heritage legislation that exists in several States to protect and promote important heritage elements within the Territory and the Committee recommends that a heritage ordinance be completed and implemented. While this legislation is being prepared the Committee recommends that the Department of Territories and Local Government acts to preserve historic sites on leasehold land.

One of the most significant long term impacts on the river will come from future urban development in the ACT. It will affect both water quality, as a result of the effects of urban runoff, and the aesthetic appearance of the river and its setting through the visual impact of urban development.

To protect the river from the effects of urban runoff, the Committee recommends that the use of sediment and oil traps prior to storm-water entering lakes and streams be maximised and that the use of biological filters be further investigated. These are particularly necessary for stormwater from Tuggeranong which will directly discharge into the river rather than through Lake Tuggeranong. The Committee also believes it is essential that construction work on the Tuggeranong town centre not commence unless special measures are in place to protect the river from urban runoff until Tuggeranong Lake is completed.

To protect the aesthetic appearance of the river the Committee believes it is crucial that no urban development take place on the western side of the river. The Committee therefore welcomes the Minister for Territories and Local Government's decision that there will be no urban development on the west bank of the Murrumbidgee, but recommends that the Minister formalise his decision so that it cannot be arbitrarily changed at a later date.

The rural settings of Lanyon homestead and Tharwa Village also lend a visually attractive setting to the Murrumbidgee River which the Committee wants to see retained. The Minister for Territories and Local Government has stated that there will be no urban development visible from the Lanyon Homestead. The Committee believes that this definition is subject to a range of interpretations and, as interpreted by the National Capital Development Commission, is too restrictive. The NCDC is proposing to develop an urban area south of Lanyon which would be visible from many parts of the Lanyon Homestead and which would effectively destroy the rural setting of Lanyon. The Committee has recommended that this proposed area of urban development not proceed. As this urban area would have proceeded to the limit of Tharwa Village, a decision not to develop it will also allow the rural setting of Tharwa to be retained.

Finally, as part of this inquiry the Minister for Territories and Local Government asked the Committee to report on the environmental impact of the Murrumbidgee Country Club proposal on the river corridor. The major environmental concerns about the proposal related to its visual impact on the Murrumbidgee Corridor, especially in the Red Rocks Gorge area and the protection of water quality as a result of the effects of stormwater runoff and possible sewage spillage into the river. The Committee believes that the visual impact of the proposed development will be minimal from the Red Rocks Gorge area of the river and has recommended that housing in the Country Club Estate which may be visible from the Red Rocks area be restricted by siting and design controls to single storey level. The stormwater centre and sewage proposals are acceptable. The Committee has therefore recommended that the Murrumbidgee Country Club proposal proceed but with adequate guarantees being made that each stage of the development can be completed. The proposal should also be subject to the provisions of the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.

Canberra is the largest inland urban area in Australia. Lower rainfall than the coastal areas where the majority of our uban population lives means that per capita water consumption in Canberra is higher than the Australian average but similar to that of other inland centres in Australia. The volume of water in our river system is ultimately limited. While it appears adequate to supply our short to medium-term needs, there must come a point where quantity and/or quality will be inadequate. It is clear that we have to start looking at our own water usage patterns now, with a view to conservation if we are to avert or even delay future supply problems.

There are increasing and conflicting demands being placed on the Murrumbidgee River and its corridor. Developments to satisfy these demands must be compatible with the primary purposes of the corridor. But while the corridor is a focus for our attention in addressing the problems which will affect the river, it does not exist in isolation and must be considered in a wider environmental context for its proper management. Measures to achieve adequate co-ordination of water resources, the implementation of vital environmental and heritage legislation and the elimination of the harmful effects of urban development are the important wider environmental issues affecting the river which this report has addressed. I believe that this report will assist in a better understanding of the Murrumbidgee River in the ACT and its future management.

Senator REID —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.